(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Cheering from the pool deck, Michael Phelps won
his record eighth gold medal of the Beijing Games on Sunday to
become the grandest of Olympic champions.
Jason Lezak held on to the lead Phelps gave him, anchoring the
United States to a world record in the 400-meter medley relay
against an Australian team that did its best to spoil history.
But Phelps, with a big hand from three teammates, would not be
denied. He eclipsed Mark Spitz's seven-gold performance at the 1972
Munich Games, an iconic performance that was surpassed by a swimmer fitting of this generation: a 23-year-old from Baltimore who loves hip-hop music, texting with his buddies and wearing his cap
"I don't even know what to feel right now," Phelps said.
"There's so much emotion going through my head and so much
excitement. I kind of just want to see my mom."
Debbie Phelps was sitting in the stands at the Water Cube, tears
streaming down her cheeks, her two daughters by her side. After
getting his gold, Phelps quickly found his family, climbing through
a horde of photographers to give all three of them a kiss.
Mom put her arm around his neck and gave him a little extra hug.
Her son sure earned it.
"The Beijing Olympics has witnessed the greatest Olympian of
all time - Michael Phelps of the USA," the announcer said as
Phelps posed on the deck with his teammates.
Even though the Americans have never lost the medley relay at
the Olympics, the latest win was hardly a breeze. When Phelps dived
into the water for the butterfly - the third of four legs - the
Americans were third behind Japan and Australia.
But Phelps, swimming the same distance and stroke that he used
to win his seventh gold a day earlier, powered to the front on his
return lap, passing off to Lezak with the Americans in front.
Australia's Eamon Sullivan tried to chase down Lezak and
appeared to be gaining as they came to the wall. But Lezak touched
in 3 minutes, 29.34 seconds - Phelps' seventh world record in his
personal Great Haul of China.
The Aussies took silver in 3:30.04, also under the old world
record, while Japan held on for the bronze.
"Nothing is impossible," Phelps said. "With so many people
saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination, and
that's something I learned and something that helped me."
Phelps patted breaststroker Brendan Hansen on the head and threw
his arms in the air after Lezak finished, though the Americans
still had to wait a couple of tantalizing minutes for the official
results to be posted. Aaron Peirsol swam the leadoff leg for the
Finally, it flashed on the board.
Gold medal No. 8.
On deck, a beaming Phelps slapped hands with his teammates and
thrust his arms toward the Water Cube roof. The winning swimmers
locked arms as if they were in a football huddle about to break for
Phelps, who won five individual races and three relays in
Beijing, couldn't stop smiling. He also gave a shout-out to those
who helped him take down Spitz.
"Without the help of my teammates this isn't possible," he
said. "I was able to be a part of three relays and we were able to
put up a solid team effort and we came together as one unit.
"For the three Olympics I've been a part of, this is by far the
closest men's team that we've ever had. I didn't know everybody
coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single
person very well. The team that we had is the difference."
Phelps won some races by ridiculously large margins, others with
the closest of finishes - most memorably, his seventh gold by
one-hundredth of a second over Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100
He set seven world records and one Olympic record, doing a
personal best time in every event.
"It's been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it's been
nothing but fun," Phelps said.
After receiving his gold, Phelps received another award from
FINA, the sport's governing body, as the best swimmer of the meet.
Make it the best ever.